What happens with our food waste?

Project Overview

Contrary to what many people may imagine, food that decomposes in landfills is actually a producer of greenhouse gases, specifically methane. There are different ways we can mitigate the impact of food waste on the environment. In this project, I investigated how individuals could lessen their contribution to the production of food waste by researching and beginning the prototyping process.

My role

Researcher and Tester


3 Days

Limitations, Parameters, Resources, and Materials

My main limitation was that within the brief time constraint I had to reach out to individuals rather than companies, so I adjusted my scope and focused on daily behaviors. It was easy to find people to interview as we all consume food. With the results from these interviews, I used some synthesizing techniques like Affinity Mapping to discover the pain points and joy points of their experiences, from this certain needs became clear. I ideated some different flows of user interaction. Then I jumped to building wireframes, a clickable prototype, finally I tested it out through some usability interviews.

Initial Problem Statement

Intitially I considered: the amount of edible food that is thrown into the garbage every day wastes valuable resources in its production and its disposal, it is on an individual level and on a corporate level. How might we decrease the amount of edible food thrown in the garbage everyday?

How did you confirm or refine your initial assumptions?

In order to understand the predicament of food waste on an individual level, I conducted 6 interviews with people living in different parts of the country.


To understand :

  • how and when people recognize they have food they will not eat.
  • what do people do with the food they dispose of and what state it is in when they dispose of it
  • how people might store their food for later, and if that is effective?
  • uncover the habits around purchasing food/ eating food to uncover if there is a specific moment in which the app could intervene.
  • when does food waste occur?
  • discus the feeling around throwing away / giving away / composting food.

User Interviews

In order to understand the predicament of food waste on an individual level, I conducted 6 interviews, from a pool of urban and small town people of ages ranging from 30’s to 60’s. Questions were on the topics of: food acquisition; eating habits; actions that lead to rotten food; disposing of food; disposing of edible food; feelings around food waste and consumption.

TOPICS and Interview Questions:
Describe your overall approach to buying and eating food.
Do your habits around food remain the same on the weekdays and weekends?
Describe where you buy food and your eating habits.
Where do you buy food?
Describe your weekday routine around food. Is the weekend different?
How do you store food that you might want to eat later?
Do you purchase groceries from a list? How do you know what to buy? Does this ever lead to food that you don’t consume?
In what ways do you dispose of rotten food?
What was the last occasion you threw out rotten food? Why did it go bad?
In what ways do you dispose of edible food?
In what ways do you dispose of rotten food?
Is there any way that feels the best when disposing of edible food?
What does it feel like to dispose of food?
How full do you like your pantry to be, what is the feeling you like to have in the kitchen?

Feedback from my interviews synthesized into affinity mapping:

Affinity Map from interviews to find insights.

INSIGHTS FROM Affinity mapping

Edible Food Waste: “I throw away edible food that tastes bad”
Rotten Food Waste: “I forget the food in my fridge and it goes bad”
Composting: “I don’t have access to the infrastructure that supports composting, so I throw
food in the garbage”
City Compost: “I love city compost pick-up!”
Cooking: “When I cook, there is surplus food and packaging”
Lifestyle: “I use a variety of strategies to shrink my food use and waste in both work and home;
the changing contexts necessitate this many strategy approach.”
Sharing Food: “I love sharing tasty food with neighbors and people who need food.”

Realizations from Interviews

It was clear from user interviews and affinity mapping that many people loved giving food to people they knew or people in need, this made them happy. Also it became apparent that when people were not on city compost they had a variety of ways to compost access points, yet they were not participating. People love city compost pick-up. To reduce the amount of waste, I noticed that we would need a fridge alert, people forget about their food and it gets “lost in the fridge”.

Revised Problem Statement:

Edible food is thrown away everyday producing the highly potent greenhouse gas methane, many companies and people throw food in the trash when there are better alternatives to mitigate the environmental impact and help others.

If the city infrastructure to compost isn’t in place, it seems we need to build alternative behaviors within our communities: how might we facilitate less overall food waste, more composting, and more sharing of edible food within neighborhoods?


I storyboarded the situation to learn more about possible functions/features.

Bag of Oranges example looking at possible actions, identified 2 different app flows: 1. a step through questionnaire, or 2. offer them all the possible actions simultaneously.

Bag of Oranges example looking at possible actions, identified 2 different app flows: 1. a step through questionaire, or 2. offer them all the possible actions simultaneously.

Three different action flows to build wireframes: (top) eat it before it goes rotten, (middle) have surplus edible food, (bottom) have surplus food to donate

Three different action flows to build wireframes: (top) eat it before it goes rotten, (middle) have surplus edible food, (bottom) have surplus food to donate

I sketched a few action sequence flows to inform the wireframes.

Below are early wireframe drafts and rewrites

very first drafts ideating the layout and iconography
splash page and setting alert
pickup and make features
alert feature

Usability Tests and Resulting Iterations

Here are the scenarios in which we conducted the Usability Tests:

  1. Scenario: Your roommate just moved out and left a bunch of food you don’t want in your small kitchen. It seems crazy to throw this perfectly good food in the garbage.

Your task: Find a way to give the food to people in need.

2. Scenario: You come back from the grocery store with a lot of fresh produce. You were so excited by all the amazing seasonal fruits and vegetables that you might have bought too much.

Your task: Figure out how this app might help you from keeping the food from going rotten

3. Scenario: You had to go on a last minute business trip out of town for the week. When you come home you find lots of the fruits and vegetables in your home are rotten.

Your task: Use the app to find out alternatives to throwing out the rotten food in the garbage

4. Scenario: You purchased a bag of oranges from Costco. You realize all you really wanted was one orange. Your roommates don’t like oranges, so now you don’t know what to do!

Your task: discover other ways to deal with the extra produce.

Usability Overall Findings

People were delighted by the make feature “a tinder for food”, in that they could swipe yes or no to recipes that utilized the surplus food they already had, and liked recipes were added to their profile.

4/4 users understood the flow to Donate, to Alert, and to Make

2/3 users understood the flow of Discover compost

It became clear that compost was an MVP feature in that the app’s main drive was to push action toward reduction of food waste, and more clean disposal systems. Below is sketches of the added Compost look-up by zipcode function.

Added compost feature after User feed back




I realized that design hierarchy and user needs don’t always align perfectly with the goals of solving the problem. With this project, it was important to make conserving food and giving food enjoyable; by prioritizing the make and food alert features, people would actually use the app. Sometimes the way to get people to do the more tedious frustrating thing, is to get to that feature through a more fun way.